Friday, April 17, 2015

Moral Dilemma

Quick question:  is it wrong to secretly hope that the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell -- who, to a person, are just fucking awful excuses for human beings, and are frankly wasting precious oxygen -- die before the rest of us are forced to subsidize their goddamned health care? You want your libertarian paradise, getting out of the system exactly what you paid into it and not a red cent more, here you go.

It's bad enough when you set up a system that forces healthy young people to subsidize the elderly, the infirm, and the shitheads who couldn't be bothered to take care of themselves in the first place. It's even worse when that latter group of doddering oldsters is so fucking ungrateful.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fuck Your Breath

As more and more black men get shot by white cops for no goddamned reason whatsoever -- and more importantly, as these events get captured on video more and more -- I suppose the question begs as to what good it will do, for the most part. Catching it on video, I mean.

Out of all the people listed in the two articles linked above, only Walter Scott's killer has even a chance of doing any time. And, uh, given that that occurred in South Carolina, don't be too surprised if it turns out the prosecutor pulled a Florida and threw a charge at Michael Slagel that a jury won't convict him on. Look at Casey Anthony, or George Zimmerman. Don't be too surprised if the Slagel case whiffs on the murder charge, and instead settles for attempting to plant evidence.

Even if Slagel is convicted of something, he's in the (pardon the dismal, unintentional pun) minority. The cop that killed Eric Garner won't be charged or convicted, nor the cop that killed Tamir Rice. John Crawford's killer, and on and on. They all get away with it. I'm not sure what exactly people think would come from "cop cams" and such. Clearly people have decided to look at this brutal shit, over and over again, and shrug and say, "What else ya got?"

At least the video prevents Slagel from lying about how and why he shot Scott, shows what his bullshit story would have been. But then it goes into the hands of people who may be inclined to give Slagel the benefit of the doubt, to decide that Scott's half-assed excuse for a record mitigates the murder charge.

On the other hand, if you're white, you can fight with cops, and merely get subdued, rather than killed. Strange how that works.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

State of the Union

The next eighteen months, politically speaking, are going to be something to be avoided. It is a great and terrible thing to live in a country that is about to see four billion dollars spent on a "choice" between two center-right job applicants. Three hundred twenty million people in 'murka, and we can't find anyone better than Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. That's a pretty goddamned sad state of affairs.

The primary differences between the two are that Bush is presumed to have a penis and thinks he's Mexican. Both will be distinguished -- and elected, or not -- mostly on their ability to grovel to and satisfy a grubby, pelf-addled cabal of bookies and spreadsheet diddlers.

Possibly the most tedious aspect of Clinton's candidacy is the prospect of media weasels mooning over the "opportunity" to have a female chief executive. That noble achievement would put us at long last on a par with places such as Pakistan. It would be difficult to find something less worth caring about.

Politics is a trap as well as a racket; every political disciple and acolyte grooms themselves mainly for inevitable disappointment, when their object of affection turns out invariably to not be quite as advertised. In this case, regardless of who wins the quadrennial epic battle for imperial custodian, it is practically a guarantee -- Bush is not remotely conservative enough to appease his increasingly psychotic base, and Clinton is a "liberal" only in the most technical sense of the word.

At this point, presidential campaigns are as much about who gets to appoint the next SCOTUS justice (yet another antiquated, unanswerable institution that sorely needs to be revisited) as they are about who gets to be the figurehead for the next few years. The best you can hope for is that Clinton selects some sort of "moderating influence" type -- Elizabeth Warren, Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders, etc. -- as a running mate, in order for people to better pretend that a vice president (a Democratic one, anyway) as any sort of measurable effect on governance and policy.

Sunday, April 05, 2015


I am glad Jerry Brown is the current governor of California, not because I have any particular like for the man, but because Meg Whitman would have been utterly catastrophic. Never trust anyone who spends $140 million of their own money trying to get a job that pays less than $175k.

That said, it is less than encouraging to see that Brown's tough talk on measures to deal with the state's ongoing drought will amount to very little. This is simple math:  if 80% of usage is from agriculture, forget a 25% reduction -- everyone else could completely stop using water overnight, and it's only going to help so much. And a reduction is only going to be enforceable for places like cemeteries and golf courses anyway, and they'll just pay the fine.

Someone who was serious about conserving water would look at some of the more egregious examples, such as why we're growing alfalfa -- far and away the most water-intensive crop -- to make hay to ship to China. Or why farmers up and down the state have switched deliberately over to more profitable (yet again, very water-intensive) crops like almonds, pistachios, wine grapes, beef cattle.

There's a certain amount of hypocrisy built into all of this. Like most people, I like steak and wine and pistachios. But I'm willing to pay a premium for those things. And I'm on a well, so when we run out, it's going to cost money to either punch a deeper well, or get a tank setup and have water trucked in.

And that's the crux of the problem -- the farmers aren't willing to pay the same premium. They take the cheap water, and the gubmint subsidies. And outside the cities, most of the pols are owned and operated by agricultural interests. As every native Californian knows, Chinatown is a documentary. As the old saying goes, whiskey's for drinkin', water's for fightin' over.

It would make more sense to charge everyone more across the board, farmers and consumers alike. You want to use up millions of scarce acre-feet of water to grow hay to send to China? Then you pay the true cost. Are you sinking a 900' ag well to tap an aquifier that might take decades or centuries to replenish at this rate? Then you pay the true cost. Do you enjoy almond milk, or steak? Then....well, you guessed it.

Until something along that line occurs, the governor's grand idea matters very little, perhaps not at all. For years California has had this never-ending boondoggle of a high-speed rail system, a bullet train to fucking Fresno that has vastly exceeded its initial cost estimates, and has no signs of starting anytime in the future, near or far. We put a man on the moon, but it took this state twenty goddamned years to upgrade the Bay Bridge, and it looks like the high-speed rail will make that look like nothing.

If we're looking for a Great Project to throw money at, maybe it's time to get serious about building desalination plants, rather than making sure people can get to Fresno more quickly. (Snark aside, California's main north-south state highways, Interstate 5 and Highway 99, are in wretched shape, constantly in repair and over-trafficked.) That would be infinitely more effective than writing people up for watering their lawns, especially when they're already conserving to begin with. The people who need to be conserving the most aren't even being asked to conserve at all.

Then again, maybe the people of California deserve exactly what they're getting, at least some of them.

Freedom of Choice

So the outrage de la semaine is, as it turns out, completely imaginary -- that is, a small business has been mercilessly e-heckled not because they refused to cater a gay wedding, but because they said they would refuse if asked. Is this what it's come to?

This is a tough one to be sure, friends 'n' neighbors, at least at first blush. From a practical standpoint, it's difficult to see how the appearance, right or wrong, of kajillions of cyber-twats over-reacting and e-spewing their self-righteous virtual venom is going to help win any converts to The Cause. All it's going to do is make the folks who already have their backs up pitch their coccyges that much higher, so much so that the pizza place in question -- which, let's recall, didn't actually have any complaints about discriminating against gay customers -- is now probably going to get a nice payday from, or whatever it's called.

It's one thing if a Big Corporation pulls that sort of shit and gets hit up with the Big Angry, quite another when it's a mom-and-pop prayer-circle pizza joint. I'm sure some noted sage or other had something pithy to say about picking and choosing one's battles wisely, but goddamned if some of these dopes never got the memo.

Of course, as you might suppose, that other side rushing to the defense of "religious freedom" is every bit as insufferable as their bien pensant counterparts, if anything even more so. I can't envision a scenario that puts me on the same side of any issue as noob tool Tom Cotton, and I'm not about to start with this issue, especially since the guy seems about as hinky as it gets. (Seriously, what kind of a grown-ass man buys birthday cake every few days?)

What all this nonsense has accomplished is that it's allowed idiots to crowdfund a cross to nail themselves to for their piety. This one is just a peach:

The florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding has netted more than $80,000 from an online crowdfunding page dedicated to “protect her and her livelihood.”

Stutzman was fined $1,000, plus $1 for court costs and fees in March for refusing to serve a gay couple when they tried to buy wedding flowers in 2013, reported ABC News.

Stutzman said even though one of the men who wanted the flowers was her friend, providing flowers for his marriage went against her beliefs as a Southern Baptist.

Well, with "friends" like that....

It would be interesting if one (1) of the media entities publicizing this martyrdom jabber would follow up on the crowdfunding aspect of all these people, see how many of those pledges actually pay up, or if some of them, once the drunken glow of self-satisfaction wears off, look at a pizza place getting nearly a million dollars pledged to it in the course of just a few days, and decide that for that amount of money, what's the harm in changing your mind?

The concern trolls will ask questions, as is their wont, and they should be answered, as they apply across the board: does a Muslim bakery have a right to refuse service to a Christian or Jew, or to an unaccompanied woman; does a gay wedding photographer have a right to refuse to serve a straight couple; and on and on. Turning some of these tables on the most strident voices, forcing them to confront their own choices and their own personal bigotries, might just beat it into the heads of at least a few of them.

The current whinging will die down soon enough, as these dumb things tend to do. But it will be back, again and again, as the perennial presidential campaign continues apace. We've come a long way on this issue in a very short amount of time -- it was barely ten years ago that ol' Turd Blossom used it as a wedge in the southern states to get the win for his boy Fredo, and to grab a few down-ticket races as a bonus. But people have come around, the anti-marriage laws have been dumped and replaced.

Right now it's being portrayed as "personal rights" or "religious freedom," in much the same way that the Woah o' Nawthun Aggression is about "states' rights." But as Primus said long ago, the flame that burns twice as bright burns only half as long, and this is no exception. Once the brave and noble e-defenders of liberty have moved on to the next imaginary outrage, gay patrons will remember, and they'll be buying their flowers and pizzas elsewhere. In the end, this is not politics, or even religion. It's just business.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Rock and Roll Over

It's a small but somehow fitting irony that the inventor of the Pet Rock passed away just in time for April Fool's Day. For those folks too young to remember it, the Pet Rock -- and its numerous imitators, perhaps the most noteworthy at that time being the Invisible Dog Leash -- was one of those products that were quintessentially American, that could not have succeeded anywhere else.

Sure, there have been tulip crazes and such like, people paying vastly more for a product than it was objectively worth. But with the Pet Rock, you finally had the apex, the holy grail of marketing. Our usual snarky definition of marketing is "getting people to spend money they don't really have on something they don't really want." (And at Christmas, perhaps for someone they don't really like).

This presaged a new era of marketing, though, the sort of thing that would have made Don Draper break one in his no-press slacks. Here was something that people bought that had no objective worth whatsoever, that was purchased not just ironically but semiotically, a cultural signifier that you were in on the joke. This was something you could literally find in your backyard, thrown in a silly package, something that all observers could see had no intrinsic value, lying inert, much like the recorded catalog of Kanye West. [Ed: Hi-yoooooo!]

Since PR and marketing are the rackets that really run the industrialized world, far larger than the usual finance / health care / higher ed beasts combined (indeed, by definition, all rackets depend on PR and marketing in order to get people to accept the ripoff and ask for more), it makes sense that the scumbags who run the political circus would sit up on their hind legs and take notice.

As Mad Men finishes up its run, it has noted repeatedly that that era was where PR weasels finally crystallized their understanding that people buy the sizzle at least as much as the steak. An even more important realization was that many people are more than willing to buy just the sizzle (fo shizzle), and not even worry about the steak.

If you're old enough to recall the Pet Rock, then you probably also recall a time when Ronald Reagan was not taken seriously as a viable presidential candidate. Then in the mid-'90s, a dimwit fuck-up son of another preznit name o' Gee Dub Bush (aka Fredo Arbusto) first beat a popular governor in Texas, and then clawed and cheated his way into the White House. But the bar had been lowered.

Several years later, Sarah Palin, and now Ted Cruz. Not to mention the countless jabbering assholes and buffoons that litter the Senate and especially the House, brazen dickheads like Louie Gohmert and Scott DesJarlais, whom you wouldn't have allowed to clean your gutters twenty or thirty years ago.

In "inventing" a fun, silly way to make a few ducats for himself and his (I shit you not) investors, Gary Dahl inadvertently also demonstrated that the bar can always get lower in this country, even in more important areas of life, with the proper marketing.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Reid 'em and Weep

Look, I'll be the first to say it -- Harry Reid is such a tool, he should have a handle coming out of his back for easier control. A corrupt nepotist through and through, Reid is said to have been the model for Senator Pat Geary in Godfather II. It could just as easily be the other way around. Regardless, he has been an effective advocate for his spacious, unpopulated state of angry grifters and degenerate gamblers, even if they don't appreciate it.

But the conspiracies from the lunafringe about Reid's recent facial injury rival those regarding Hillary Clinton's murderous lesbianism. Thanks to Rush Limbaugh, the corn-dog-eating doofus from Powerline, and a gaggle of associated useful idiots, the hot conspiracy rumor is that Reid pissed off a mobster, who then decided to slap him around. (Added bonus:  the idea that Rush Limbaugh would have one-tenth of a clue about the potentially injurious -- or otherwise -- effects of exercise equipment.)

Forget the fact that people get injured by exercise bands snapping into their faces with surprising frequency, and that children and old people get injured the worst. You really can lose an eye doing that. The interesting part is that this is the conspiracy theory they came up with, that a Vegas Mafioso -- an extinct breed these days -- bitch-slapped Reid, a powerful US Senator, for getting out of line.

See, nowadays our thugs are corporate. The closest thing Vegas has to a true mobster is Sheldon "Bugsy" Adelson. The palm-greasing, favor-trading, influence-peddling, the passing of thick envelopes, those activities still exist, just as they do in DC. But the days of Anthony Spilotro, of Moe Greene slapping Fredo Corleone around because he's banging cocktail waitresses two at a time, are long gone.

Nobody stuck Dirty Harry's head in a vise. He's just a klutzy old man who got smacked by a giant rubber band.

For some real insight into the mentality at work here (and I normally would never link to this sort of crap, but you have to see it to believe it), note this breathless recounting of what "Harry Reid's constituents" did, a particularly ugly case of child abuse and pornography (yes, ugly even by the disgusting standards of that category). Actually, "breathless recounting" is far too kind -- they really just copied and pasted a Daily Mail piece almost in its entirety, and dumped their own cogent analysis of the whole sordid tale:

So just in case you had ever wondered what kind of people would elect Harry Reid as their senator, now you know.

Well, no, asshole, we don't know, because you've provided no evidence whatsoever that these animals voted at all, much less that they voted specifically for Harry Reid. Maybe they voted for John Ensign, or Sharron Angle. Are we holding every political entity responsible for their worst supporters?

But that's always been their standard for lobbing accusations and innuendo, pulling assertions directly out of their asses and passing them off as facts. I suppose these dopey snipe hunts at least keep these rubes from doing any real damage for the time being.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Modest Proposal

Don't get me wrong, but if someone were to suggest that maybe, in the cause of generational self-preservation, we set the boomers out on a gargantuan ice floe -- say, the next chunk of Greenland to snap off -- with a couple crates of Matlock VHS tapes and a case of Metamucil to fight over, I'd chip in a few bucks to see that happen.

Honestly -- and before anyone gets butt-hurt, I know there are decent boomers who feel guilty about their grasping peers, just not enough of them -- one would be hard-pressed to think of a demographic that could be more characterized by their generational solipsism. Their parents beat Hitler and Tojo, held Stalin at bay, and built a mighty middle class, and then the boomers had a good time and then fucked it all up for their kids and grandkids.

And now they want us to pay for their party, the one they had without us. They're going to hoover up every fucking dime of Social Security and Medicare before they go, just you watch. If you're under 50 years of age, figure out a contingency plan, whether that means making cash on the side, escaping to a country that doesn't bankrupt people for health care and education, whatever. Because it ain't gonna be there when you're 70, unless you're rich.

I know some of the folks in that generation are embarrassed and ashamed at this, and they oughta tell their compadres that maybe the rest of us have a say in this as well, that we have enough of a time paying for what's left of our own lives, without having to worry about their goddamned Cadillac plans while we get jack shit. It's time to spread the pain a little.

The Invisible Scalps of the Marketplace

Random surfing on a lazy Sunday afternoon:  over at Cole's jernt, some low-hanging fruit got me thinking a bit (I know, I know, throw your worst at me). Normally, watching some bien pensant fool get hoist on his own petard after giving low-wage food service staff a hard time would give me a pretty fat outrage boner.

But this is nuts -- as ham-fisted as this schmuck's attempt to Do The Right Thing and speak Truth To Power turned out, he lost a $200K/year job, $1M in stock options, received a bunch of death and bomb threats, and now lives with his wife and four kids in an RV, on food stamps. All for a dumb two-minute video he shot almost three years ago.

Meanwhile, if you're a butt-hurt cheapskate pastor, you can get an Applebee's waitress fired over a shitty comment on a receipt, involving a $6 tip, and still peddle 27-page self-help books at ten bucks a pop. (And take your tax write-offs, of course, no doubt including the aforementioned meal.)

I'd say Adam Smith paid a huge price for a relatively minor transgression, and that these viral incidents happen randomly, and without proportion. People get away with being raging assholes to waitstaff everywhere, all the time, while others lose their careers because they said something stupid.

And yet Donald Trump continues to fester in the public eye, a turgid, nasty reminder that karma really is just a fiction we tell ourselves, to reserve the hope of justice in an entropic, indifferent universe.

What got Smith dinged up is that he chose to insert himself into a politically contentious issue, one that clearly has its share of potentially violent bozos. But it's not even the bozos and weirdos that were the problem -- the problem was the mere potential that Smith expressing his opinion and pissing off a bunch of emotionally retarded people could be bad for business.

Corporations and their sponsors rule the world now, and perceptions and marketing matter more than ever. Sometimes that works out for the best; as Arizona found out last year, and Indiana is about to find out soon, gay people buy stuff, and so companies are loath to piss them off. Who knew?

Watching the video, Smith's uncalled-for smuggery and his abuse of the staff stand out. While he was polite enough to Rachel the fast-food worker, his senseless trolling on what he gloated was a busy day was shitty and unnecessary. What did he think was going to happen, that Rachel was going to get on the phone with Dan Cathy and tell him that his unkind comments about gays cost them a free cup of water for some rich douchebag?

But again, he paid a more-than-harsh penalty, for what virtually any food-service worker will tell you was a comparatively minor transgression, and it was mostly because he aggravated an interest group that are organized and skilled at intimidating their opponents. You hear of Phil Robertson getting any bomb threats, losing any part of his livelihood, over all the hateful shit he's said over and over again? Me neither.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is that Smith's story has resurfaced because he -- wait for it -- put it into an e-book, which has been amazingly poorly received, and whose description shows Smith's unfortunately thin skin.

[Pro tip -- never put this sentence anywhere near the product you're trying to sell:  Update as of 3/27/2015, 6:45pm, PT, regarding the many 1-star ratings my book has received today and yesterday, I would like to note that I have only sold 17 digital copies thus far, yet there are 23 1-star ratings on my book. This fascinates me! LOL!]

Then again, after the disproportionate punishment they've received for their high crimes, it would be understandable if Adam Smith or Justine Sacco came off as a bit sensitive.